Jay Copp 2017-09-20 14:10:39
One Hundred Years in the Making The Centennial Convention in Chicago returns 30,000 Lions to their roots. It was a performance that for thousands of Lions captured not only the splendor of convention but also its significance. Grinning widely and clearly enjoying themselves, the 19 boys and girls of the African Children’s Choir pounded the stage floor with handheld metallic percussion cans. Then swaying in a charming unison, they sang. Their high-pitched voices reached the farthest corners of the crowded convention hall at the plenary session. A Rousing Performance Joining the choir on stage for their finale was opera tenor Edward Lee, an Englander who lives in Germany. After Lee and the choir performed the inspirational “You Raise Me Up,” the young performers quickly encircled him for a tight group hug. The message was unmistakable: it’s a small world, we’re in this together and let’s take care of one another. “It was so fitting, so beautiful,” said Sylvia Hain, the 2017-18 president of the Lone Tree Lions Club in Iowa. No one was actually counting, but there had to be at least 100 such inspiring moments at the centennial convention of Lions Clubs International (LCI) in Chicago June 30 to July 4. An international convention is inevitably a grand affair with its lengthy parade, star-studded entertainment and renowned speakers, not to mention important Lions’ business such as electing a new international president. But in the city of Lions’ birthplace the 100th convention played out as a fiveday party, a celebration of a century of service. A Parade to End All Parades Lions mingled with old friends, met new ones, marveled at the parade, applauded the exhortations of speakers and enjoyed bands such as Chicago and the Beach Boys. Most of all, they soaked it all up, happy to be part of the historic occasion. “It’s just joy. There’s just so much emotion and energy,” said parade spectator Jessie Duvall of the Topeka Sunflower Lions Club in Kansas. The convention was proof of the value of Lions in a world in need of service. “There is so much negative news. You see the good in humanity here,” said Elaine Uhlman of the Meadville Lions Club in Pennsylvania. The exhibit hall was a place not just to wander through but to stop and enjoy or learn. Campfire Sessions (above photo) hosted Lions or other speakers who talked about topics of interest to Lions. Lions appreciate a display that focuses on donating eyeglasses (below photo). More than 30,000 Lions and guests from 151 nations attended the convention at McCormick Place, the largest convention center in North America. Clusters of Lions drew up chairs at the Campfire Stage to hear Lions talk about a project or passion. Crowds flocked to the MyLion booth to learn about the new app for Lions. Many waited in line to pose for photos on a pedestal flanked by statues of lions. Others paused at the Lions of India booth to enjoy the sitar played by a cross-legged musician. Assisted by past international presidents and other Lions representing the seven Constitutional Areas of Lions, 2016-17 President Chancellor Bob Corlew lights the centennial torch; to the right is Past International President J. Frank Moore III, centennial chairperson. The centennial was front and center at McCormick. Mounted on lighted columns, multitudes of black-and white photos told stories of a century of worldwide service from Australia to Zimbabwe. In another spot, the faces and names of 100 international presidents filled a towering wall. McCormick Place, which typically showcases glittering new products such as cars or houseware gadgets, stood as a sprawling testament to humble service—10 decades worth. Displays were interactive. Lions could press a touchscreen and, presto, a projected cartoon image of Melvin Jones, the garrulous Lions’ founder, cheerfully answered a set of predetermined historical questions. Lions revel in the pomp and pageantry of a convention but especially appreciate the moments of quieter, sudden solidarity. “It’s right here,” said Tim Wilson of the Fort Dodge Evening Lions Club in Iowa, gesturing at the Lions seated at tables near him in the café at the exhibit hall when asked why convention is worthwhile. “You meet so many people from other countries and states.” Moments of connection and coincidence invariably occur at convention. “You hear stories from other Lions about what they do, and you take those ideas back home,” said Wilson. Inside the Exhibit Hall For many Lions, new technology unveiled at the convention brought far-flung Lions closer together. Wendy Hartmann downloaded the MyLion app and delightedly discovered that when she sent a message to a Lions overseas it was translated for her and the Lion’s message back to her was translated into English. “This [convention] is leading us toward the next 100 years. All this technology will help us into the next century,” said Hartmann of the St. Nazianz Lions Club in Wisconsin. Convention also is a matter of Lions just being Lions. There was the unknown Lion who saw the long lines at registration and volunteered on the spot to help LCI staff—and stayed half a day. A Lion in a purple shirt who stood along the parade route high-fived marcher after marcher and affectionately mimicked the sing-songy chants of delegations—“Nay-paul,” “Pay-rue” and “Eck-waa-door.” 2017-18 President Naresh Aggarwal displays the president’s ring, given to him by Corlew. The centerpieces of the convention are the three plenary sessions. The preshow of the first of the three plenary sessions featured American English, a Beatles tribute band, and the quartet closed with—quick, only one guess allowed—“Birthday.” President Chancellor Bob Corlew of Tennessee, who led the plenary, quickly noted the appropriateness of the host city for the convention. “Just a few blocks from where we are now, Melvin Jones and the first Lions pioneered a new idea: clubs dedicated to service,” he told Lions. Then he and seven Lions, representing each of the constitutional areas of the Lions’ world, helped light the centennial torch, ceremoniously lowered from the ceiling. In his farewell address, Corlew gratefully cited the accomplishments of Leos and women and revealed that a few weeks before convention an all-time membership high of 1,449,987 Lions was achieved. Keeping and adding members is critical, he noted. “Because for every Lion who joins us, on average we serve the needs of 70 more people. That’s 70 people who won’t go hungry today, 70 children who will receive an eye screening at school, 70 people who will regain their sight through a Lions’ sponsored cataract surgery,” Corlew said. The second plenary session featured the rollicking Blue Brother Revue, who played the preshow, and boyishly handsome pop star David Archuleta, who took the stage twice. He sang the invocation with Lee (the son of Past International Director Howard), later performed John Lennon’s gentle peace anthem “Imagine,” and, to the delight of the many Lions from Latino nations, sang a lovely traditional Spanish love song. The second session also detailed Lions’ accomplishments through their foundation, LCIF, and throughout the three-year centennial celebration. LCIF recently reached the $1 billion grant mark since it began in 1968, declared LCIF Chairperson Dr. Jitsuhiro Yamada of Japan. In the past year LCIF and Lions particularly made strides in helping refugees, halting measles and beating childhood cancer. Joining Yamada on the stage was six year- old Ava Marilyn Bell of Sydney, Australia, whose cancer is in remission. Ava provided a light moment in a segment highlighting a deadly serious matter. Her father asked what she liked best about Chicago. “My daddy wanted me to say, ‘Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls,’” she told Lions. “But I like the pizza, the ice cream and the museum with the dinosaurs.” “Just a few blocks from where we are now, Melvin Jones and the first Lions pioneered a new idea: clubs dedicated to service.” Past President J. Frank Moore III of Alabama, the centennial chairperson, announced that Lions easily surpassed the goal to serve 100 million people for the Centennial Service Challenge. “You did that two years ahead of schedule,” Moore told roaring Lions. The current number of people served is 166,294,782—and counting. The final plenary session kicked off with a playful announcement: “Lions and Leos, we went with the devil down to Georgia and came back with the Charlie Daniels Band.” After the band fiddled its way into the heart of Lions, the Lions Humanitarian Award was presented to Stan Brock, who founded Remote Area Medical, which provides medical care to the underserved. Next up was Patti LaBelle, who sang and then chatted amiably with Corlew about her struggles with diabetes, a core concern of Lions going forward. Years ago, LaBelle collapsed on stage in Albany, New York. “I assumed it was because I was tired. The doctor said, ‘Did you know you had diabetes?’ I said, ‘No way.’ I knew I had to change my way of living,” said La- Belle, whose mother had her legs amputated because of diabetes and whose aunt lost her sight due to the disease. The third session also featured the traditional transition of leadership: the 2017-18 district governors took the oath of office, as did 2017-18 International President Naresh Aggarwal of India, the third Lion from that nation to lead LCI. Aggarwal’s speech was highlighted by crowd interaction. “What are the two most important words for Lions?” he asked. “What is the most important first word? What is the second most important word?” Right on cue each time, the thousands of Lions in the hall loudly shouted “We Serve,” “We” and “Serve.” The plenary—and convention—ended with the extinguishing of the centennial torch. The torch was passed to several Leos, symbolic of how the impulse to serve surely will live on after the centennial party fades into history. Chicago Enjoys World-Class Service from Lions and Leos Lions came to Chicago to celebrate the centennial, see the sights—and to serve. The dozen service projects coordinated by headquarters sold out. More than 450 Lions, Leos and friends packed 11,000 school meals, cleaned up 40 pounds of garbage from the Chicago River banks and fed 75 homeless guests. Lions on the Loose Lions also packed 15,000 pounds of food for a food bank, assembled 1,700 hygiene kits and, in a partnership to beautify a neighborhood with the Heartland Alliance, planted flowers, hosted a bingo party and worked with a graffiti artist to paint a colorful mural on the side of a drab building. Lions paid $25 for the privilege of serving others (the fee paid for transportation, food, host organization fees and a T-shirt). World Leaders Take the Stage at Convention Al Gore, former U.S. Vice President A recipient of the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize for his environmental efforts, Gore focused on the climate crisis. “There are only three questions remaining. Must we change? Can we change? Will we change?” he asked. “Must we change? For a long time the scientific community told us the answer is yes. Now Mother Nature is telling us in no uncertain terms.” Gore cited a long list of woes resulting from climate change: soaring temperatures, more powerful storms and fires, deadly air pollution, drought, raised sea levels— threatening coastal cities and leading to crop failures and food shortages—and millions of climate refugees, leading to political instability. Can we change? Gore pointed to the substantial gains in wind and solar power. “We have the solutions to the climate crisis. We can solve the crisis,” he said. Will we change? People worldwide are determined to do what’s needed, he said. “Nobody can stop the sustainability revolution. We will solve the climate crisis,” he said. “All the great moral movements in human history have met with a series of no’s—ferocious resistance: the abolition of slavery, the women’s movement, the anti- apartheid movement in South Africa. The late Nelson Mandela said it’s only impossible until it’s done. … We do have the will to change. Always remember, Lions and Leos, the will to change is a renewable resource.” Ban Ki-moon, former U.N. Secretary General Moon praised Lions. “More than 65 million people are refugees, fleeing disasters, wars and abuses of their human rights. These are the largest number since the end of the Second World War. Xenophobia, terrorism and other man-made catastrophes are destabilizing our world. In this dangerous environment, we need people who care. I have been urging world political leaders not to erect walls but build bridges among people. We need Lions International, which is breaking down barriers and building bridges of trust and friendship.” He also urged Lions to work against climate change. “The science is real and plainly clear. Climate change is approaching much faster than we know. The threat is growing. And we have the power to stop it. … Climate action means more jobs, not fewer. It means greater opportunities and potentially unlimited advances. It means a cleaner environment and healthier people. … We cannot negotiate with nature. Nature goes its own way. We have to have wisdom to live harmoniously with nature. I ask and urge Lions International to be champions of climate action.” Headquarters Tour
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